Administrative History

The Church of Gesu is a Jesuit parish of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Milwaukee located in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  The parish community was formed in 1891 from the merging of two other Jesuit parishes in Milwaukee: St. Gall’s (founded 1849) and Holy Name (founded 1875). The word “Gesu” is Italian for “Jesus,” and it is also the name of the mother church of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) in Rome. A site for the new parish church was selected in 1892 at 12th Street and Grand (Wisconsin) Avenue. Gesu’s cornerstone was laid on May 21, 1893 and the church was dedicated on December 16, 1894. In 1907 Marquette College relocated from a site on Milwaukee’s Highland Avenue to a plot of land beside Gesu Church. The Jesuits owned and operated both institutions. Over the course of the twentieth century, Marquette College (later Marquette University) expanded to fill the blocks surrounding Gesu Church.

The Gesu Parish Grade School opened near the church in 1899, staffed briefly by the School Sisters of Notre Dame and then by the Sisters of Charity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It operated as a “free school” for sixty-nine years, closing in June of 1968.

When Marquette University and its Jesuit community became separate legal entities in 1970, Gesu Church became the property of the latter, now incorporated as The Marquette Jesuit Associates, Inc. This relationship continued until 1994 when Gesu became a separate, independent corporation with its parish assets and property belonging to this new parish corporation. Since 1994 it has operated as a separately incorporated parish of the Milwaukee Archdiocese, sponsored and staffed by priests from the local Jesuit Province.

Scope and Content

The collection contains the historical records of Gesu Parish and School as well as surviving records for the two nineteenth century parishes that merged to form Gesu: St. Gall’s Parish and Holy Name Parish. Please note: the collection does not contain sacramental records for these three parishes. Sacramental records can be found at the archives for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The collection is divided into six series.

Series 1: Administrative Subject Files, 1850-2013, undated, (29.0 cubic feet) is the largest series in the collection, containing historical records accumulated over the years that document Gesu Parish and the Church of Gesu building. Files are arranged alphabetically under several general headings: Building, Chronicles/Diaries, Clergy/Individuals, Correspondence, Financial Records, Liturgies/Sacraments/Devotions, Organizations, Photographs, Publications, Subject Files, and Video and Audio Recordings.  Documentation is relatively scarce for the years after 1970. Of particular note is an extensive library of published newspaper articles about Gesu Parish, clipped from a variety of sources. This was created at the time of the parish’s centennial celebration in 1993 and provides abundant information on the history of the parish. The oral history interview with Fr. Kenneth Herian, S.J. is closed to researchers during the life of Fr. Herian.

Series 2: Gesu and the Marquette Jesuit Associates, 1955-1984, undated (0.3 cubic feet), is a single box of files pertaining to the relationship between Gesu Church and the Jesuit community at Marquette University, which separated from the University in 1970 to form its own corporation -- the Marquette Jesuit Associates, Inc.  Gesu Church was the property of the Marquette Jesuit Associates until 1994 when it became its own parish corporation, staffed by Jesuits from the local Province.

Series 3: Gesu School Records, 1898-1999, undated (3.9 cubic feet), documents the parish “free school” (no tuition charged) that operated in a building on Thirteenth Street, near Gesu Church, from 1899-1968.  Arranged alphabetically by folder title, the series contains a variety of document types, such as photographs, newspaper clippings, diplomas, certificates, and programs for athletic events and dramatic performances. Many of the items in this series were donated over the years by former students.  The series contains references to Gesu School’s most famous alumnus, the Hollywood actor Pat O’Brien (1899-1983).  Gesu School has an active alumni association, and the series also documents some of group’s reunion gatherings since the school’s closing in June 1968.

Series 4: St. Gall’s Parish Records, 1848-1896, undated (3.6 cubic feet), contains surviving records from the predominately Irish Catholic parish that was founded in 1849 at Second and Sycamore (present-day Michigan) Streets and that was offered to the Jesuits by Milwaukee Bishop Martin Henni in 1855. St. Gall’s merged with Holy Name Parish to form Gesu in 1891. Some of the earliest documents, such as correspondence, are photocopies of documents probably held in other repositories.

Series 5: Holy Name Parish Records, 1875-1897, undated (1.4 cubic feet), contains surviving records from the Jesuit parish that merged with St. Gall’s Parish in 1891 to form Gesu Parish.  Although the series contains far fewer records than the series for St. Gall’s (Series 4), the surviving ledgers from Holy Name contain valuable information about the parish’s relatively brief history.

Series 6: Artifacts, 1896-1968, undated (10.1 cubic feet), contains three-dimensional objects, books, and textiles from Gesu Church and Gesu School.  Many of the school artifacts are trophies that were donated to the archives by members of the school’s alumni association.

Series 7: Charles A. Riedl Devotional Collection, 1852-1975, undated (0.2 cubic feet), contains an assortment of devotional materials -- mostly devotional cards -- acquired by Gesu parishioner Charles A. Riedl throughout his lifetime and gifted to Gesu by his heirs. Some of the material was printed in Europe. The earliest items collected by Riedl date to the mid-nineteenth century. Many of the items are undated.